Kings of Rhyme

Run-D.M.C. keeps pushing to earn respectability for hip-hop

Maybe it's those eternal elements that have kept Run-D.M.C. on the road incessantly for the past five years, even without a new album to plug ("We always say, yo, we might put an album out and it could ruin us"). Even at its lowest moments, like the 1988 cinematic and musical double-disappointment Tougher Than Leather, the group always seemed drawn to hip-hop for its power to communicate, not merely its power to set trends. In their multiplatinum heyday, the group members perfected a kind of anti-style as style, decked out in matching outfits: black jeans, black tee shirt, black hat, and unlaced white Adidas. It was a simple look, and it made the trio strangely fashionable while thumbing its nose at fashion consciousness. These days, more than ever, the group focuses on what it considers the essentials.

"You come to a Run-D.M.C. show, it's not gonna be what you see on these videos nowadays," D.M.C. says. "It's not about the glamour and the ritz, it's all about 'just throw your hands in the air and make some noise.' We got all this momentum behind us, I mean, we been in hip-hop 16 years, and the notoriety and the juice that we've been able to soak up over the years wasn't because of just records."

With its achievements safely in the history books, Run-D.M.C. is aiming toward new goals these days. Although all three members are married with children, the trio has no intentions of letting up. D.M.C. insists that they still have something to prove.

"When they always say, what do you think about gangster rap, I think that everything that happened in hip-hop in the last seven years was important, but 50 years from now you'll see what was the realest of the real--Run-D.M.C. will still be there. Our goal is to be playin' the Vegas strip, Run-D.M.C., July 15 to July 30, Caesars Palace. That's our vision for rap. We know it's not a fad, and I think we're gonna be the first to do that. Rap made so much money and became such an industry that so many people got money-minded, especially the record companies, but Run-D.M.C. isn't depending on the industry to keep our existence. If the record industry ended tomorrow, do you know how many groups would be over?"

In spite of the fact that it is indeed a producer's world in hip-hop today (witness Puff Daddy, Master P, RZA, Dr. Dre), D.M.C. sees new life in the current scene. "The status of hip-hop now is wonderful, y'know--number-one records, you can open up Billboard and see number ones, the big industry that hip-hop has become. The universal appeal hip-hop has--white, black, Hispanic, Puerto Rican, Chinese, Japanese, Russian. . . . I mean, we travel all over the world and we can't believe there's so many hip-hop fans everywhere. We did Jerusalem, we went to the Ukraine, went to Moscow and it was like ridiculous, people out there in Public Enemy shirts and Boogie Down Productions and Run-D.M.C. and Naughty by Nature and Nas and Noriega, even all the new stuff, they vibin' on it.

"I just think now, it's a turnabout period for rap. Like in the last five, six years, all rap has been the same, everybody look the same, everybody rapped about the same things, now I think it's comin' back where the hip-hop audience is starting to open up, especially with the success of groups like the Fugees and Tribe Called Quest. So I think the mold has been broken now, you don't got to just keep rappin' about how many women you got, how much money you got, your fancy cars and your diamond rings. Which is a part of hip-hop, but I just think in the last five years, it's all been so monotonous. Everybody was tryin' to outdo everybody materially. Now I think it's comin' back to the thing with lyrics, socially conscious records, back to the performance thing, the live thing, and back to the DJ, instead of a rap group callin' themselves a hip-hop act and goin' out there rappin' over a DAT--how could you be a hip-hop group with DJs and MCs and you ain't got a DJ up there cuttin' records?"

Based on past glories, Run-D.M.C. could continue to make a solid living into infinity as a live act. The bigger question is whether they, or anyone, for that matter, can sustain a long-term hip-hop recording career in the way that a John Lee Hooker has managed in the blues or the Rolling Stones have achieved in rock. Most of Run-D.M.C.'s '80s peers have long since disappeared or become nostalgia acts, while others, like LL Cool J, have covered all the bases with stabs at an acting career. But Run-D.M.C. was never meant for the all-around-entertainer approach. These guys were hip-hop artists first and foremost, and their skills--if not their commercial instincts--remain intact. In fact, the brief freestyle that D.M.C. busts on the phone during our interview shows the same old-school, MC-slayin' verbal assault that Run-D.M.C. was raisin' hell with 16 years ago. Yet one gets the feeling that if Run-D.M.C. never reaches the heights again as a recording act, it won't exactly devastate the group.

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